Many years ago, I remember I watched an interview with a famous ballet-dancer. I don’t recall his name, now, but I do recall some of his words. He was asked about the roles he liked to dance and said he preferred to play the ‘baddies’ as they were so much more interesting than the good guys.
I remember, too, being shocked by his statement and wondered what it was he found so much more interesting about the villains he could portray than the heroes. Perhaps, looking back, he was actually revealing more about himself than about the characters but it triggered for me a life-long quest to understand the nature of good and evil – as my adolescent mind would have put it.
Were his assumptions generally accepted? Did society at large consider good people to be boring? And if so, did that work in reverse? Are boring people generally considered to be good?
With a brother who constantly delighted in teasing, humiliating and demeaning me, I was already more than a little intrigued by what attracts people to ‘the dark side’. Is it really so much more fun? And, if true, isn’t that considerably worrying?
As I spend my time nowadays writing the characters that arrive on my page, I’m constantly challenged to create realistic pictures by some of my readers. And for ‘realistic’, all to often read ‘flawed’, ‘nasty’ or downright ‘evil’. What kind of world do they live in, I wonder.
Sadly, it is all too easy to create characters that wish to do harm or exercise perversion. A few titillating phrases, a quick voyeuristic sketch, a splash of vomit or blood, and the general consensus seems to be that your story has ‘meat’.
It is much harder, I think, to write solidly inspirational characters. People who are willing to consider their way through a situation, or act with courage when they’re scared to their boots.
At the weekend, I caught part of the Star Trek fiftieth birthday celebrations on TV. One of the channels presented a feature-length programme about the auction of Star Trek memorabilia that took place ten years ago, for the fortieth anniversary. An enormous enterprise (pun intended) between CBS, Paramount Studios and Christie’s, it was – as well as a whole lot of fun – extremely touching to realise what the numerous series and films had meant to so many people, including me.
The comments shared by both fans and actors were an affirmation of an extraordinary man – Gene Roddenberry – who had a vision of how society could be. His wonderful stories of The Federation and the many other world visited, live on in people’s hearts precisely because they challenged the accepted mores of the time and dared to portray different ways of being and doing.
His hugely-admired characters created controversy by questioning the status quo with their version of inclusivity (gender, race and Klingon!), their prime directive of non-interference in the affairs of alien civilisations and their understandings of honour, truth and friendship.
I don’t know anyone who considers these ‘good’ characters to be boring, insignificant or ‘thin’. Are they unrealistic? Not for me. I feel they are magical examples of how humans can face the unworthy parts of themselves and ‘make it so’.
I can only aspire to this inspirational paradigm and hope that eventually some of my characters may have even a small portion of the creative impact on the world as his. This is not an easy task but it is a highly worthwhile one, and one which I trust I’ll always have the courage to pursue.